Two U.S. senators think your TV is spying on you, ask the FTC to investigate

US senators Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey want the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether internet-connected smart TVs violate viewers’ privacy, Ars Technica reported.

The New England Democratic senators wrote to FTC chairman Joseph Simons to express their concerns.

“While the evolution of the smart TV has ushered in a new era of innovation and interactivity, we must ensure that these technological advancements do not come at the expense of our privacy. We request that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continue its previous work on smart TVs and launch an investigation into the privacy policies and practices of smart TV manufacturers.”

Existing cable and satellite TV privacy laws don’t apply to internet-connected TVs. Congress requires that cable operators and satellite carriers detail clearly how they collect and use viewer data and obtain explicit viewer consent ahead of time. However, laws that date back to 1984 did not foresee internet television connectivity and the potential for data companies to track user viewing activity via smart TVs.

Markey and Blumenthal wrote that “By identifying the broadcast and cable shows, video games, over-the-top content like Netflix, and other applications that users are viewing, smart TVs can compile detailed profiles about users’ preferences and characteristics. Recent reports even suggest that smart TVs can identify users’ political affiliations based on whether they watch conservative or liberal media outlets.”

The senators addressed an FTC investigation into smart TV manufacturer Vizio that resulted in a $2.2 million settlement over charges that the company installed software that collected data from 11 million television sets without the owners’ consent. They also referred to reports that Samba TV, a smart TV user data company, offers users the opportunity to opt into the company’s interactive TV service without spelling out what data will be collected and how it will be used.

The report about Samba TV appeared in the New York Times. A Samba TV spokesperson told the newspaper that it had revised its “opt-in language and policy.”

Noting the FTC’s recent actions, Blumenthal and Markey requested that the FTC continue the work and launch a broad investigation of privacy issues and smart TV manufacturers.

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